The Ancient Art of Nature Awareness: November 28 - December 2, 2016

Join Michael Ridolfo, Mohonk’s staff naturalist, for a week, a day, or an hour of immersion into the science, art, and culture of deep nature connection, mindfulness, and self-awareness. We will employ the time-tested principles of tracking and nature observation, authentic survival skills, and the spontaneous attention that occurs when we move through the arena of the natural world.

For reservations, please call .

Mohonk Mountain House is a National Historic Landmark resort located just 90 miles north of New York City. Overnight rates include breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea and cookies, and most activities, including hiking and use of the indoor heated swimming pool and fitness center in our Spa wing.


Monday| Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Program Leader |

Monday, November 28

9:00 p.m.  Program Introduction
The Value of Reconnecting with the Natural World
During this brief gathering we’ll learn about the legacy our ancestors gifted to us in the forms of tracking and awareness, survival skills, and complex and effective social structures. We’ll have a nature display to evoke questions and conversation. This will be educational and fun for the entire family.

Tuesday, November 29

7:30 a.m.  Mindfulness Walk
The Way of our Ancestors

Learn how moving efficiently through the natural world helps to pattern our brains for expanded awareness and our bodies for balance, agility, and strength. Shifting from an urban or suburban gait to our ancestral gait makes us instantly quieter in the woods and enables a more intimate perspective into the natural world. Through this simple shift we are able to see more wildlife and discern more subtle patterns. In addition, we will learn to expand all of our senses to their fullest potential. This hike will be approximately one mile at a very easy pace.

10:15 a.m.  The Art of Shelter—
Survival Priority Number One

Covering a few basic concepts, we’ll learn to build a shelter using all natural materials that will keep us alive in the harshest conditions. This will not be a demonstration—participants will build shelters in small teams and we’ll test them for waterproof-ness!

2:30 p.m.  Tomahawk Throwing—
Good, Clean Fun!

We’ll learn the fundamentals of safe and effective tomahawk throwing and how to adapt to changing conditions. Don’t be fooled—this skill is an effective tool for enhanced brain wiring and concentration, attributes that help us in all aspects of our lives.

9:00 p.m.  Night Hike to Copes Lookout
Moving deftly and silently and tapping into our night vision, we'll hike approximately 1 mile. Be on the lookout for creatures and events of the night—owls, insects, coyotes, stars, and satellites. We'll tap into our deep sensory awareness to take in as much information as possible.

Wednesday, November 30

7:30 a.m.  Tracking:
Reading the Stories in the Earth

We have been tracking as long as we’ve been human. It’s what we do. Some anthropologists and neuroscientists propose that tracking is what has allowed our brains to develop into the immensely complex logical and creative tools they are today. Our brain structure is wired for it—or in response to it. We’ll begin with some clear print identification and move into tracking of situations, moments in time, and even ourselves.

10:15 a.m.  The Gift of Water—
Hike to Mossy Brook Spring

All life on Earth depends on water. Since the dawn of our species and beyond, we drank water from the surface of the earth. This of course has become a much rarer event as our culture has tainted much of this vital resource. Now all of our water comes from municipal or industrial sources. However, there are still plenty of places to find fresh, healthy surface water; all we need to know is how to read the landscape. On this beautiful path we will also learn about waterborne pathogens and how to purify water when necessary.

2:30 p.m.  Tool-Making and Camp Skills
Everything we need to live can be found in a decent-sized patch of forest. What we may overlook is the little things that we take for granted that make our lives quite convenient and efficient—spoons, bowls, cordage, clothing, water-boiling methods, survival teas, tools, and more. Here we’ll learn the fundamentals to craft these things from the landscape.

9:00 p.m.  Film Showing:
The Great Dance—A Hunter’s Story

A cinematic masterpiece of our tracking heritage, The Great Dance offers a message of hope for our species and our relationship with the planet. The San Bushmen of the Kalahari of South Africa are among the earth’s great tracking cultures. Their very lives are dependent on the skill and commitment of the trackers in their family groups to find food so the people may live. For the San, however, tracking is more than tracking an animal—it is a way of viewing the world and their connection to the divine. Development is threatening their way of life, and this film is a window into this drama.

Thursday, December 1

7:30 a.m.  The Five Voices of the Birds
Do birds really talk? Consider that birds have been on the planet for approximately eighty million years and that they possess enhanced vocal and auditory apparatus. Surely these adaptations have allowed them to remain a viable life form, and their complex vocabularies have been instrumental in this success. Here we will learn not only who is vocalizing but reach into the question of why, and, just as important, what this can teach us about ourselves and our relations with the natural world.

10:15 a.m.  The Art of Primitive Fire-Making:
The Science and Alchemy of Fire-by-Friction

Fire is an essential element for our long-term survival. The ability to make fire with only materials found at hand is a skill that our ancestors possessed for thousands of generations. While it is challenging at first, the rewards are many, as it gives us the freedom to know that we can create a fire in most circumstances and apply this vital element for heat, cooking, light, tool-making, preparing medicines, purifying water, and so much more. Participants will learn one method of fire-by-friction and apply their new-found knowledge on their own bow-drill kit.

2:30 p.m.  The Gift of Trees—
Our Great Benefactors

Trees provide everything we need to live—oxygen, food, shelter, fire, tools, and more. They fix nutrients in and cool the soil, prevent erosion, bank carbon dioxide, and so much more. In every indigenous tradition, the trees are metaphors, a template, for how humans should live—close to the earth, rooted in our homeland, growing straight and tall, always reaching higher, adapting to the changing seasons, supporting each other, living in balance with other species. The teachings of the trees are endless. On this casual walk through the forest we’ll cover approximately 20-25 species of tree, learn how they grow and where, and learn their uses and their teaching role in native lore.

9:00 p.m.  Wild Earth Wilderness School—
Creating Nature Connections in our Community

For 12 years, the Wild Earth School, based in New Paltz, New York, has been educating and inspiring children, adults, and business groups in re-connecting to their natural heritage. The tools used to achieve this are simple and effective: learning the language of nature, becoming proficient in the skills necessary to free oneself of fear in the wild places, and understanding our contribution to the whole. Please join world-class educators from Wild Earth for a fun and enlightening evening.

Friday, December 2

7:30 a.m.  Edible and Medicinal Plants:
The Freedom of the Wanderer

Long-term survival would be difficult at best without a firm knowledge of plants. They are the base of the food chain and humans can barely live in a habitat without reasonable plant diversity. With foundational plant knowledge, we essentially have access to food and medicine wherever we go. Here we will cover 20-25 edible and medicinal plants and learn their uses.

Program Leaders

Michael Ridolfo is the Mohonk Mountain House naturalist. After 20 years of rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain biking, skiing, winter mountaineering, nature photography, writing, and music, he began practicing the art of tracking, wilderness survival, and the native mentoring model. This journey has evolved into teaching children and adults how to deepen their relationship with the natural world. In 1999, he founded Wilderness Mind, a school dedicated to preserving the ancient arts of tracking and nature awareness.

David Brownstein is the Executive Director and co-founder of Wild Earth, with programs that lead youth, teens, and adults back into the woods and up the mountains, wading in streams, exploring animals and plants, practicing primitive skills and crafts, and building deep connections with friends and inspiring mentors. Through Wild Earth, David seeks to help regenerate healthy community culture and create opportunities for people to connect with themselves, each other, and the Earth. Prior to founding Wild Earth, David worked as a wealth advisor on Wall Street for twelve years before realizing a life dream – fully sharing in the care and parenting of his three children, and creating a small family farm. Today, the Brownsteins raise dairy cows, goats, chickens, bees, and vegetables in season. David also maintains an active counseling practice called Root Connections, where he focuses on helping individuals, couples, groups, and business leaders identify and manifest their unique vision.

Alisha Mai Frank, Programs Director of Wild Earth, grew up in southwestern CT, where she spent her days clambering across barnacled boulders lining Long Island Sound, and capturing crickets to feed to her leopard frogs. She studied acting at Emerson College and graduated from Hampshire College with a self-designed B.A. in ecosystem mimicry agriculture and community circus theater. Alisha Mai has run nature-immersion programming since 2008, with Vermont Wilderness School, the Institute for Natural Learning, Wolftree Programs, White Pine Programs, and most recently, Wild Earth. Mai enjoys working with girls and teens, and incorporating physical play into her programs. She draws upon her background in theater and circus to create zany and magical experiences in nature. Alisha Mai is certified in Wildlife Track and Sign (Level II) through CyberTracker, and is a Wilderness First Responder. She teaches vinyasa yoga and aerial silks, and studies at Circus Warehouse in Queens.

See you there!

For reservations, please call .